After deal with Israel, offshore rig arrives in Lebanese waters to drill for gas

‘We hope that Lebanon will become an oil state,’ says Beirut’s energy minister, as country looks to potential fruit of border agreement with Israel to get it out of its deep crisis

The drilling ship Tungsten Explorer is seen off the coast of Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, on May 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)
The drilling ship Tungsten Explorer is seen off the coast of Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, on May 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)

An offshore drilling rig has arrived at its location in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon’s coast and will start operations in the coming weeks to search for gas, Lebanese cabinet ministers said Wednesday.

The rig is expected to begin drilling in September in Lebanese waters near the border with Israel after the two countries reached a deal last year on their maritime border. Lebanon and Israel have formally been at war since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Cash-strapped Lebanon hopes that future gas discoveries will help the small Middle East nation pull itself out of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

Minister of Transport Ali Hamie wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the rig arrived Wednesday morning at the location where it is scheduled to begin work. The rig faces the southern port city of Tyre.

“We hope that Lebanon will become an oil state,” Lebanon’s Energy Minister Walid Fayyad told reporters in Beirut, adding that the results of the drilling are expected in two or three months.

In 2017, Lebanon approved licenses for an international consortium including France’s TotalEnergies, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of 10 blocks in the Mediterranean.

Energy Ministry Director General Lior Schillat delivers a statement at the border Rosh HaNikra crossing in northern Israel, known as Ras al-Naqura in Lebanon, following the signature of a maritime border deal between the two countries, on October 27, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The borders of one of the two blocks were disputed by Israel until the maritime border deal was reached last year with the previous government headed by Yair Lapid. Then-opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu had lambasted the deal as a surrender of national resources to an enemy state, but hasn’t moved to cancel it since he returned to power.

In January, Lebanon, ENI, TotalEnergies and state-owned oil and gas company Qatar Energy signed an agreement in which the Qatari firm replaced Novatek. Under the deal signed in January, Qatar Energy will take Novatek’s 20-percent stake in addition to 5% each from ENI and Total, leaving the Arab company with a total stake of 30%. Total and ENI will each have 35% stakes.

Under the US-mediated deal between Lebanon and Israel that was signed in October, the disputed waters would be divided along a line straddling the “Qana” natural gas field in the Mediterranean. Total said gas production would be based on the Lebanese side, but Israel would be compensated for gas extracted from its side of the line under a separately signed deal between Total and Israel.

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